Working Together

Instead of calling each other out, what if we called each other in?

There is one thing on which all of us can agree: The difference between a strong nation and a struggling nation lies in Americans finding common ground with one another. It’s the essence of democracy. But how do we achieve that in a country founded on the principle that all men and women have a right to their individual beliefs — which some might say is a uniquely American belief? And how do we make it work in an era of tremendous polarization, such as the one we’re currently living in?

For this to happen, we must accept that all great achievements — political, scientific, economic and otherwise — have come through collaboration. The creation of the United States of America is perhaps the best example of what can happen when people work together to find common ground. The signers of the Declaration of Independence didn’t agree on everything, but they forged ahead and developed a solution that 56 men could sign, including four who disagreed but signed to give the illusion of more support. Only four representatives refused to sign the document, a monumental achievement in governance, considering the scope of the task.

Working together doesn’t mean acquiescing, however. Any student of history can tell you that the Founding Fathers had some raucous debates during the Continental Congress, the first governing body in the United States. But it does mean listening to viewpoints that differ from our own; understanding that not everyone has the same experiences and backgrounds; and, ultimately, compromising to find a solution that everyone can live with.

Unfortunately, compromise is a dirty word today in some circles, synonymous with giving in or selling out. That shouldn’t be the case.

For others, the very idea of listening to someone with opposing viewpoints is considered a step too far. There are now movements on some college campuses, once bastions of free speech, to limit speakers with controversial viewpoints, a dangerous and decidedly un-American assault on civil liberties. But this position isn’t unique to the left. A 2017 poll by The Economist showed that 45 percent of Republicans believed the courts should have the right to shut down media outlets they perceive as biased. This demonstrates that people on both sides of the political spectrum are more eager to call each other out than to listen.

That’s an interesting expression —  “to call someone out,” meaning the process in which we publicly challenge the statements or beliefs of someone whose views are different from our own. We say it all the time: “She called him out in front of everyone when he said we should defund the police.” Or, “He called her out at the public forum for her views on immigration.” It comes across almost like a verbal act of aggression — a way to tell someone in the strongest possible terms that he or she is wrong.

I was listening to a podcast recently, and heard a wonderful alternative to “calling someone out.” What if, instead, we “call someone in?” What if we listen to someone speak, then mention the parts of his or her comments where we find agreement. What if we said, “I agree with you that our system of policing doesn’t work the same for all Americans.” Or, “I like that you acknowledge that our immigration system is flawed. What else can we agree on?” Wouldn’t that be more likely to spark a conversation rather than an argument?

The only way we’re going to solve the problems that prevent Americans from reaching their full potential is to listen to one another. We can no longer afford to shut out people with whom we disagree. We must find common ground with one another.

If the Founding Fathers could do it, so can we.